Digital and Data Roundtable Summary: September 12, 2018—Charlottetown, PE

Hosted by Lisa Setlakwe
Area of Focus: Future of Work

Highlights of Discussion

We are in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution. Jobs are being displaced and new jobs which require new skills are being created. The nature of work is also changing. Shifting work culture and business models have altered what we think of as ‘traditional work’, impacting everything from hiring practices, skill attainment, and education.

In certain areas, businesses struggle to find the right workers. Technology could help to fill these gaps, freeing up labour for more skilled endeavours. Technology is also a tool to bolster capacity and efficiency, allowing for greater global competitiveness however some companies are hesitant or unsure how to implement these technologies.

In order to benefit from technology we must ensure that Canadians have access to the talent and skills they need to adapt to the changing workforce. We must also ensure we leverage data to improve both internal business efficiencies and to better understand the digital economy and its impacts. 

Key Themes

Skill Shortage
In small areas many companies are struggling to cover skilled workers lost through attrition, leaving no room for growth. Post-secondary institutions are not as responsive as they could be due in part to a traditional culture that makes it hard to pivot, as well as the challenge of hiring skilled teachers.
Need for soft skills
Automation is likely to replace more mundane tasks. Humans are still needed for interpersonal skills which robots can’t easily replicate (emotional intelligence, critical thinking). Training should focus on these skills in addition to harder tech skills.
New Models of Learning
Education for the new digital age, particularly in small communities, requires a different approach to learning. Online resources can be leveraged to teach non-traditional trades and tech courses and to connect to more remote students. Work-integrated learning helps connect students with opportunities, allows them to try out different areas, and helps them to be ‘work-ready’ which benefits local companies. We need to continue to grow these programs through closer links between industry and academia.
Traditional Sectors
In Atlantic Canada, the biggest employers of ICT personnel are non-tech companies. Traditional sectors are becoming tech industries, but we need to change the perception to showcase opportunities for highly skilled tech workers in these fields.
Women in STEM
Still seeing a lack of women in trades and STEM fields, however, also have a shortage of female instructors in these files in post-secondary education. Continued and prolonged exposure to technology for younger girls is needed.
Open Data
Open data sets provide an opportunity for start-ups to leverage data to drive innovation, build new tools and companies. However, Canada is behind many other countries in its use of easy access to open, anonymized data sets.
Small Communities
Small communities have unique challenges and opportunities. They can allow for easier access to support through closer networks. They also allow a good space for piloting products which can be showcased for larger markets. However, it can be difficult to access those with digital skills. Limited local talent means having to cast a wider net across Canada and encourage immigrations. Need greater awareness of opportunities for students as many in tech fields believe they must move to larger markets (Toronto, Montreal, etc.)
Small Business Capacity
Lots of great ideas don’t succeed because small businesses don’t have the skills to execute and grow. Can be difficult to navigate all the options and resources available and determine what the best course of action for them is. Small businesses benefit from mentorship and guidance.
Barriers to Adoption
Some people are resistant to automated solutions even when they are presented with a clear value. Many have experience with previous technology that they may have purchased but were unsuccessful integrating. Some may be hesitant to repeat this mistake as they see it as a wasted investment. This can be overcome by building a relationship with businesses and ensuring solutions are well suited to their unique issues.
Private Data
Many businesses are not retaining private data as this is being deemed too risky in the current environment. There is value in data however, cannot guarantee absolute security as hackers are increasingly sophisticated and cybersecurity and data storage are complex issues. Many companies are opting to use external data storage companies to manage their data and mitigate risk around personal data storage.
Gig Economy
The Gig Economy, where people are essentially ‘contractors’ completing short term employment, is growing. While this may not be attractive for all workers, particularly Canadians who tend to want more traditional, secure employment, it can be an option for some. These positions offer flexibility and can allow those with in-demand skills to draw a high salary.   
Labour Market Data
Students are looking to prepare for where jobs will be, but difficult to do so without sufficient labour market information. Don’t have information on the digital sector, how big it is, how it’s growing, or where the potential is. This makes it difficult to predict needs, and so students are guessing where jobs will be. This is an issue in small communities like PEI where it is hard to extrapolate data. We must do more to understand the issue and grow the solutions locally.

Ideas/Outcomes

Government Inventory
The Government hires a lot of skilled talent and small businesses may have trouble competing. The Government could build an exchange program with an inventory of interested employees who could be allowed to leave to work for a start-up company with job security to return to government upon completion.
Grand Challenges
People like solving problems. Government could play a facilitating role in bringing together people with diverse backgrounds around Grand Challenges.
Increase Interest in STEM
Need to drive interest in STEM by making “STEM” cool. Supporting communities for young kids such as FIRST Robotic challenges, MakerSpace and the PM Science fair will help build critical thinking skills in a fun environment. Encouraging kids to use technology to create may not necessarily drive them to a STEM career, but builds STEM and tech literacy.

Attendee List

  1. Found Network
  2. Food Island Partnership
  3. JD Irving, Ltd.
  4. Holland College
  5. Synapse